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Raymond's Reviews #46

%T Imperial Lady: a Fantasy of Han China
%A Andre Norton & Susan Shwartz
%I TOR Books
%D May 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 293
%G 0-812-50722-3

This book tells the tale of Lady Silver Snow, born the only daughter of a general in disgrace, who through courage redeems the fortunes of her house and becomes queen of the Hsiung-nu nomads beyond China's Great Wall. It is based (as an afterword explains) on the life of a historical person, but includes a tasty soupcon of fantasy elements.

This collaboration bears comparison in many ways to Susan Shwartz's solo fantasy Silk Roads and Shadows (see RR#45). Both use the glitter of Imperial China and the great steppes of Central Asia as background; both present strong stories of women who, though misfits in their own cultures, find the strength to represent what is best of them in alien lands.

If Imperial Lady misses something of the depth and impact of Silk Roads, it also avoids that book's major flaw; Lady Silver Snow seems far less out of place in her time than the Princess Alexandra did in hers. If one can accept the initial premise that a Han Chinese general would teach his daughter to ride and shoot the bow, Silver Snow's character and choices seem relatively plausible.

Nevertheless, this book has more the flavor of a juvenile (like most of Norton's solo work). The plot is a simple one, turning on duty and love and involving only two major confrontations in both of which the issues are far clearer-cut than in Alexandra's initiatory struggle on the Diamond Path. No-one in Imperial Lady ever becomes quite as three-dimensional as Alexandra and her friends in Silk Roads.

The prose is in a somewhat more high-flown and pseudo-archaic mode than Silk Roads, but that's appropriate to the book's atmosphere. It works. All in all, I'd say this is acceptable escape reading, especially for the teenagers it seems to be aimed at; others without my particular fondness for oriental fantasy may find it rather slight.

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Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>